4:47 p.m.: Chris Liebing pummels the Kozzmozz stage with pounding kick-heavy techno beats while video screens project the traced after-images of an anonymous city skyline. The German DJ grins and raises a heavily tattooed arm as green flames spurt before the stage alongside enormous flower adornments.
4:54 p.m.: Making my way over to Audien, a towering fan in a Goofy costume accosts me. After planting a high five on his overlarge glove as prompted, I’m immediately flanked by a shirtless festival-goer dressed as Thor. Unleashing a battle cry, he attacks my blind spot with the speed and precision that only an inflatable sword can offer.
4:59 p.m.: The instantly infectious lead melody of Audien’s “Hindsight” matches the euphoria at Ferry Corsten’s Full On stage. The young Anjunabeats artist beams and extends a palm to the crowd. A dedicated fan in the front row whoops and shakes a homemade banner bearing Audien’s name, while another shakes a giant inflatable hammer inexplicably emblazoned with an Israeli flag.
5:11 p.m.: Audien transitions from Galantis’ “You” into “Serotonin,” his recent collaborative single with singer/songwriter Matthew Koma. “I never want to come down from you!” Koma cries. If the rampant energy on display is any indication, neither does the crowd.
5:35 p.m.: Above & Beyond drop Seven Lions’ “Don’t Leave” on the main stage’s trance-mad masses. Ellie Goulding’s vocals precede a gigantic bass drop that sends the enchanted crowd into conniptions. More limbs than can be counted flail in every conceivable direction.
6:25 p.m.: “They have to play Sun & Moon right?” a concerned fan queries no one in particular. The all-knowing trance gods immediately placate her fears as the acoustic version’s iconic piano melody and strings excite all in attendance. A bombshell in comically sized sunglasses and a neon yellow headband perches on her friend’s shoulders, seemingly intent on embracing the sky in its entirety.
6:38 p.m.: The main stage’s mass exodus subsumes the festival’s narrow bridges with a crowded crush of fans. Floating lily pad flowers belch water in periodic bursts while walkers tread proverbial water. A slowly-passing festival-goer hoists a foreboding sign that reads “Winter is Coming.” A second fan painstakingly follows with a sign reading “My Name is Winter.” A third completes the series with “My mother doesn’t know I’m here,” drawing tension-defusing chuckles from the horde.
8:00 p.m.: Kaskade enthralls the main stage congregation with “Atmosphere,” the title track off last year’s LP that boasts his own vocals. The American dance star’s face contorts with effort as he mouths along to his own song before relaxing into a pearly smile as the colossal crowd picks up the refrain.
10:14 p.m.: Sweden’s Alesso wraps up a rollicking remix of Disclosure’s “Latch” and mixes down into the reflective piano line that introduces his smash remix of OneRepublic’s “If I Lose Myself.” Cheers swell and couples kiss as the vocals enter. The snare-stuttered build seems to take an eternity, building tension that boils over into a frenzied release upon the drop. Alesso can’t contain himself with mouth agape and palms pumping to the beat, his face frozen in a perfect portrait of euphoria.
10:38 p.m.: An explosive burst of energy grips the capacity crowd as Hardwell takes the main stage reins. The Dutch dance megastar made his name as the don of festival-sized sets and he shows his expertise early with a series of dizzying builds and drops that enrapture the staggering crowd. Stranded smilers take in the scene with glitter-sprinkled faces. Even those without a direct line of sight dance wildly with perfect strangers. It’s clear that for many in attendance, the moment far outstrips the man onstage. Hardwell has simply become a catalyst for unbridled and revelatory release.
12:10 a.m.: Tiësto reaches a break as every light extinguishes, shrouding the fully-packed field in darkness. A deafening cry of mixed wonder and excitement takes hold of the main stage mob as their entry wristbands hum to life with blinking blue light.
12:16 a.m.: The backstage mood is cheerful and relaxed. Hardwell jokingly whips a friend with a towel while his proud parents quietly converse with his entourage. Dyro wears a black jacket and a sizable smile at an adjacent table. Anticipation takes form in a swelling cheer as green lasers arc across the expectant crowd, whose wristbands reignite in response to the escalating energy. Security personnel diligently prepare for Hardwell’s onstage ascent.
12:30 a.m.: Hardwell joins Tiësto in the booth. The duo receive an unmatched ovation and commence with a remix of “Zero 76,” the collaborative homage to their shared hometown that helped launch Hardwell’s career. It’s as predictable as butter on bread, but the adorant crowd eagerly laps it up.
12:49 a.m.: After exchanging a fraternal embrace, Tiësto and Hardwell spin around to pose for a photograph in the booth while most of Tomorrowland rages behind them. For two of the industry’s most polished and professional artists, there’s nothing scripted about the genuine excitement and joy etched in their faces. While the joint set is surely more spectacle than substance, it’s also nothing less than two friends performing with passion on their genre’s most significant stage. Fireworks fill the sky.